Achieving a clean, polished edit is simply a matter of style

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 2 to 4 November. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. John Ingamells reviewed Mastering editorial style sheets, presented by Amy J Schneider.

Conference Aston, where the 2019 SfEP conference was held.

‘Anything you had to look up’ is a great place to start when thinking about what to put in a style sheet. If you have to reach for a reference book, others will too. So, save everyone the trouble and put in your style sheet.

Excellent advice from Amy Schneider in her conference session on style sheets. Anyone who thought a style sheet was just a quick list of whether to use US or UK spellings and whether to hyphenate things beginning with ‘multi-’ will have been impressed by Amy’s exposition of the breadth of things that merit inclusion in a style sheet and the level of detail involved.

Amy walked us through some key questions about style sheets: what they are for; who uses them; how to go about creating one, and what to include. She also touched on some of the differences between fiction and non-fiction (or is that ‘nonfiction’? Where’s my style sheet?).

Most publishers will have a standard sheet, but each project will still need its own to reflect individual requirements. The earlier in the process the style sheet is produced the better, since it can be useful at all stages of production. Copyediting and proofreading, we all understand. But how many of us have stopped to think that indexers and designers will also find a properly compiled style sheet just as useful?

When creating a style sheet and deciding what to include, Amy warned us of the danger of the whole thing becoming an unwieldy wall of text. Sometimes, there may be no getting away from the amount that needs to be included, so it becomes all the more important to focus on clarity of organisation and layout. She challenged us to think imaginatively about how we present the information. ‘Make it skimmable!’ One interesting idea was whether to list things alphabetically or thematically. For example, should Chardonnay and Merlot be listed a long way apart on an alphabetical list or grouped under a single heading of ‘Wine’? The answer will obvious if we follow Amy’s advice and consider the audience: who is using this list and what format will help them find what they are looking for efficiently.

Thinking of the audience will also help us decide how much detail to include. A publisher might be happy with a simple page reference to the relevant bit of the Chicago Manual of Style, while an indie fiction author might appreciate a more detailed explanation for a choice that the copyeditor has made.

In the case of fiction, Amy emphasised that the style sheet was the place for the editor to note down any continuity issues: for example, a character might have three brothers on one page, but four brothers a few chapters later.

Finally, Amy encouraged us to see the style sheet as a core product of the editing process.

Like any good conference session, Amy’s presentation gave us plenty of informative content but also left us with much food for thought on how we can develop and improve our own approach to style sheets.

After 15 years in the diplomatic service and ten years in the City, John Ingamells became a freelance editor in 2015. He lives on the North Norfolk coast with his wife. His work is mostly academic (journals and books), but he has tackled some fiction and business copywriting. When not working, he bakes sourdough bread and plays backgammon.

 


Style sheets work as a complement to style guides. The CIEP guide Your House Style outlines the value of having a house style and how to create such guidance if it isn’t yet in place for an organisation.


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

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